Bland v. Roberts

Bread & Kaya: Liking a Facebook page and the law

Bread & Kaya: Liking a Facebook page and the law

Foong Cheng Leong
Aug 14, 2014

– ‘Liking’ a page doesn’t necessary mean you agree with it
– Using Sedition Act for what you ‘Like’ sets dangerous precedent

THE recent report that Malaysian police are investigating a Penang teenager under the Sedition Act 1948 for liking the ‘I love Israel’ Facebook page has raised more than a few eyebrows.

This leads to some interesting questions: What does liking a Facebook page mean? Does it mean liking the idea that is expressed by the Facebook page? In the above case, does this mean that the teenager actually loves Israel?

To answer this, we first refer to Facebook’s definition of ‘Like.

What’s the difference between liking a Page and liking a post from a friend?

Liking a Page means you’re connecting to that Page. Liking a post from a friend means you’re letting that friend know you like their post without leaving a comment.

When you connect to a Page, you’ll start to see stories from that Page in your News Feed. The Page will also appear on your profile, and you’ll appear on the Page as a person who likes that Page.

Further, in the US case of Bland v. Roberts, No. 12-1671 (4th Cir. Sept. 18, 2013, click here for the PDF), the Court held that:

On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘Like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘Likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he Likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.

This is a US case thus it is not applicable to us, and Facebook’s definition may not be relevant here. So far, we have no reported case in Malaysia of the legal implications of Liking a Facebook page.

To me, when a person Likes a certain page, it doesn’t necessary mean he or she ‘likes’ what the page represents. I may ‘Like’ a page to ‘get the stories from that Page in my News Feed.’ I sometimes Like a page to support a friend who started such page, but that does not mean I like his postings or expressions there. I’m sure many of us here use the Facebook ‘Like’ button differently.

To charge the teenager for sedition for Liking the ‘I Love Israel’ Facebook page is a dangerous precedent. Each Facebook user would have to be very careful on the Facebook page they Like. Those who are oblivious to current affairs would be most vulnerable.

Furthermore, the name of a Facebook page can be changed. Imagine if someone changes a Facebook page in open support of child pornography, and those who had previously Liked the page seem to suddenly like child pornography!

(Note: No approval is required to change the name of a Facebook Page with fewer than 200 members).


First published on Digital News Asia on 14 August 2014

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